Tim and I wanted to do a bigger challenge in the summer and rather than the 5 to 9, get some more time out enjoying the countryside. We’d soon come up with the idea to cycle from Westbury to Thatcham and camp over somewhere half way. A quick Google maps session later and I’d discovered the The Barge Inn , the “Most Famous Pub in the Universe”. Crop circle central and home to some interesting beers. As we got nearer to our adventure, Tim felt more comfortable on a bike so we decided to increase the route to cover all of the Kennet and Avon Canal – From Bath to Reading, 75 miles of towpath.
Tim and I were joined by Nick, who had heard all about our adventures and wanted to give it a go. The first part was getting to Bath. British train transport has some crazy rules about the number of bikes allowed on their trains. We managed to book spaces on the first train (max 6 spaces) but couldn’t reserve any on the connecting train. This one turned out to only allow 2 (3 of us) and there was already a bike on it. Luckily we had a friendly train manager and he let us squeeze them all on and we made it to Bath together.
The start of the canal is next to the station and we were soon on our way to our first stop at Bradford-on-Avon. The tow-path is in excellent condition and we felt great. The canal and railway line snake through the hills and the scenery is stunning. There are a couple of viaducts for the canal to cross over the river.
After a relaxing pit-stop (Pint of beer) at Bradford-on-Avon we were off to our next stop at Devizes. Again the tow-path was in good condition and the ride was enjoyable. We had 1 challenge to get up Caen Hill Locks. The 29 locks have a rise of 237 feet in 2 miles (72 m in 3.2 km). The locks come in three groups. The lower seven locks, Foxhangers Wharf Lock to Foxhangers Bridge Lock, are spread over 1.2 km. The next sixteen locks form a steep flight in a straight line up the hillside. A final six locks take the canal into Devizes (Caen Hill Locks Wiki). There is a good cafe at the top of the locks and we were in time for a cold drink and ice cream before they closed.
The final leg of the day was to Honeystreet and the pub for dinner. This is where the tow-path became more and more overgrown and the path disappeared. It was becoming hard work and definitely “Mountain bike only” ride. We were ready for The Barge Inn and the end of the day’s ride.
After dinner and a “few” pints we headed off to find our camping spot for the night and enjoy the sunset over the Wiltshire countryside.
I woke in the middle of the night to clear skies and set my camera to capture a time-lapse.
Day 2 was the usual early start with a coffee and some porridge. We were going to get some more food at our first stop of Crofton Beam Engine cafe. The tow-path was tough – overgrown and in poor condition. It was a struggle. When we finally made it to the cafe it was closed. We had a quick break anyway and continued on to Kintbury. The tow-path only started to improve near Hungerford. At Kintbury we stopped at Tim’s mums for a fry up. Just what we all needed.
After recharging on bacon sandwich and drinks and the improving tow-path we headed off at a quicker pace. We we got to Newbury the path was in great condition and the speed increased. Next stop the Rowbarge!
Final section now! On to Reading. We were flying now, with a good tow-path and tailwinds we completed the last section and came into Reading and made it first to the Oracle shopping centre.
then onto the end of the canal at the River Thames. It was a bit disappointing that they didn’t have a sign announcing the Kennet and Avon Canal. But we had made it and felt great.
It’s got to be our best adventure so far. Plenty of planning and luck had made an enjoyable trip. Can’t wait for the next bike challenge….